SMALL PLANES & HELICOPTERS

Continuing on the subject of aircraft accidents, in 2013, there were 1199 general aviation crashes, more than three crashes per day on average killing 347 people, injuring 571 people and destroying 12 aircrafts.

The article in the Journal News of Wednesday, June 18, 2014, found that the airline crash rate has plummeted to 0. The general aviation rate (small aircrafts crashes) from 15 years ago are roughly 40 times higher than for airlines. The place where people are getting killed is general aviation according to the National Safety Council. The crashes have killed tens of thousands of amateur pilots in single engine airplanes, police and medical workers in emergency helicopters, farms in agricultural sprayers and business executive in corporate jets. No other country experiences similar crashes. The United States is home to leading manufacturers and powerful lobbies which in 1994, convinced Congress to bar injury and death claims involving aircraft and parts that are more than 18 years old. Unlike other areas of products liability, you can sue for defective parts whenever the defect is discovered. The law was enacted after multimillion dollar settlements and verdicts including a $29 million verdict against Cessna for a crash that killed 3 people. A $22 million verdict was entered against Mitsubishi for a crash that killed 5 people. Instead of replacing defective parts to save lives, the manufacturers lobbied Congress and the Law was passed not allowing lawsuits for defective parts after 18 years, instead of making safer small aircrafts. Judges have dismissed many lawsuits under the 1994 law. Major verdicts continue concerning newer parts and manufacturers covered up defects.

USA Today found 80 lawsuits involving 215 general aviation deaths since 1994 that resulted in a firm paying a settlement or damage of at least $1 million dollars. A verdict against General Electric for a helicopter crash that killed 7 firefighters and 2 crew members was entered in the amount of $70 million. Lycoming for a crash that killed 3 was found responsible for a $26 million dollars. As damages have mounted against manufacturers, they have stone walled attorneys and officials drawing sanctions and scolding’s by Judges. The U.S. Government was stonewalled in 2008 when the NTSB investigated failures of cockpit displays that had malfunctioned. They requested manufacturers about displays that had malfunctioned and were not forthcoming calling the request overly broad, not relevant and onerous. NTSB records show Sikorsky Aircraft withheld information from NTSB and plaintiffs. An analysis showed problems with the model that had crashed 1 ½ years earlier. The Federal Magistrate wrote that “the only plausible reason for Sikorsky’s delay is because the analysis was adverse to Sikorsky’s interest”. The Court ordered Sikorsky to pay $577,000 in legal penalties.

In the 1970’s, carburetor maker, Borg-Warner told FAA that pilots caused the problem by using automotive gas instead of aviation fuel. An Alaska Judge stated that the facts were false. The Judge awarded $6.7 million to the widow of a man killed in 1986 crash in Alaska. The Judge wrote the company’s failure to disclose the actual cause is outrageous. The verdict included $5 million in punitive damages. Precision Automotive bought the carburetor line in 1990’s and began making plastic floats to replace metal floats that malfunction when a leak develops. Precision said nothing about malfunctioning when it announced in 1998 that plastic floats were available. In 2010, a jury awarded $8.9 million including $64 million in punitive damages to survivors of a 1999 crash of a Piper Cherokee with a metal float. Four people were killed.

If you or anyone you know has been involved in a small plane or helicopter accident, contact the Law Firm of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800.